Summary of Panchatantra: background, history, origin & influence
The Panchatantra discusses varied topics like philosophy, psychology, politics, music, astronomy, human relationship, etc., in a simple yet elegant style. This makes it a rare piece of literature, and a unique book. It attempts to illustrate how to understand others, how to choose reliable and trustworthy friends, how to overcome difficulties and problems through tact and wisdom. Moreover, it illustrates how to live in peace and harmony even in the midst of deceit, hypocrisy and other pitfalls in life.
These are the very objectives that the composer of Panchatantra, Pandit Vishnu Sharma, wanted to accomplish in order to provide maximum knowledge to three young princes through stories and examples. In fact, not just the princes, this most unique book has enlightened millions of readers and listeners for centuries.
In the introductory narrative, the composer boldly declares:
"Whoever learns the work by heart,
Or through the story-teller's art
His life by sad defeat - although
The king of heaven be his foe -
Is never tainted."
According to the introductory narration, the Panchatantra was composed for three princes that a king had entrusted the composer with, to impart knowledge and wisdom. The composer, a brahmin by the name of Pandit Vishnu Sharma, is stated to have enlightened them through colourful tales within six months. He recited and explained to them this unique composition of tales based on older oral teachings and stories. The book, Panchatantra, is divided into (pancha) five 'tantra's (systems) of 'Nitishashtra' (Science of wise conduct).
It was originally composed in Sanskrit language
in India around 3rd century BC. However, based on evidences, many tales referred in the composition find their origins back to the period of Vedas and Upanishads, dating around 1500 BC to 500 BC. Panchatantra is therefore, proclaimed as the oldest collection of Indian fables surviving till date by most scholars of Indo-European languages.
Over time, travellers carried these tales to Persia, Arabia, Greece and Europe. A version of the Panchatantra was composed in Pahlavi language around 6th century AD, followed by an Arabic version around 8th century AD, and a Greek version around 11th century AD. The work was later translated to various European languages. The fact that it is translated in more than 50 languages, is evident of its popularity and is the reason that many western tales have a familiarity with the tales of Panchatantra - as they are mere adaptations.
Till date, works based on Panchatantra continue to evolve, with newer translations and adaptations. On one hand the tales are adapted for kids, and on the other hand, the essence of the Panchatantra transforms into a buzzword among young managers with its prescribed management practices and strategies making its way into corporate.